Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
The beginning was an enjoyable read. But it just turned darker and crazier. That darkness alone doesn't bother me, but narratively, just too much goes down. Maybe being a social worker is like that - constant havoc - but it ruined the reading experience for me. I felt like every time I started a new chapter, some huge disaster had occurred. Now this character is a prostitute! Now the FBI is shooting at one of his clients. Now this boy is homeless and in juvie and throwing hot chocolate against someone's face. Then the ending - the mid sentence cliffhanger - just felt like a gimmick.
I guess this is the kind of book people who like Breaking Bad and Cormac McCarthy read. I'm just not that kind of girl.
The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum
"Matricide," the first essay in this collection, is perfect. So perfect that the rest of the book felt a tiny bit like a letdown. I couldn't really enjoy the final essay about the coma because I had already read about it in the first perfect essay. Overall, this is a very smart collection. "Invisible City," about a game of charades played at Nora Ephron's place, is so hilarious I had to read huge chunks of it out loud to friends.
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Nice, quick little book that works on many levels. Great characters, great slice of life that reveals what it is to be a young immigrant. Even in such a short read, the pace moved realistically enough until the end, when the author rushed through the end of life in two pages. Those pages felt irrelevant, like the text that runs after a movie has wrapped up.
Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
This really rode the line between subtle and boring for me. Certain chapters seemed to be doing a lot of work with very little. Others felt tedious.
Heat by Bill Buford
Part memoir, part profile, part cookbook, part history - this book accomplishes a ton in a relatively short amount of space. I found it super insightful and very charming.
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Perfect title, perfect structure, perfect ending. This story gives life - real, human life - to the news stories so many people gloss over. There is woe here, but just as often there is joy and love. Beautiful sentences, too.
Ghettoside by Jill Levy
There is so much to praise about this book - impeccable reporting, great sentences, unbelievably astute descriptions. Somehow Leovy allows readers to see the humanity in every side of this horrific nightmare.
It should be required reading. There is so much to learn from GHETTOSIDE about poverty, violence and policing. Reading it definitely opened my eyes.
I do have two criticisms, though. First, the title. She makes case enough in the book for calling it GHETTOSIDE, but I find it alienating. I think it will stop some people from reading it. It just seemed too cheap and easy. I felt embarrassed reading it on the bus.
Second, the structure. After page 200, it goes really weird. It's hard to tell if this is a book with a neat narrative arc - the story of one case to stand in for them all - or an arc with spires and waves emanating everywhere. She is very good at making people come alive in only a few sentences, but as a reader I found it hard to keep track. And author is supposed to weed out what I don't have to know so that what I do does not lose any power. Unfortunately the side stories of other detectives and so so so so many other cases muddled the reading for me. Her earlier drive-bys with the list style, sentence for every killing, better showed me the scope of what these guys are dealing with. I couldn't connect in the later chapters because I just couldn't keep track of who I was supposed to know.
Still, this is a huge feat of reporting and writing, and I hope it wins lots of awards.
A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor
Pretty sentences but hard to track. The "a novel" tag on the front doesn't seem quite right. It's more meandering prose poem, shifting perspective and time - beautifully but opaquely. I couldn't finish it.
The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
I think these chapters might work better as mini-essays. Right now, they don't add up to a greater narrative for me: chapters and chapters to by in the beginning without ever establishing any stakes.
The voice is charmingly casual, but it almost undermines what could have been a great memoir. It just needed a round or two more or thinking - past this is a great and funny anecdote to what does this mean?
I could finish it, but my time would probably be better spent just rereading The House on Mango Street.
The Green Mile by Stephen King
I never imagined myself reading a Stephen King book. Then I read a recent short story of his in The New Yorker and loved the sentences so much I decided to give a whole novel a try.
The Green Mile is awesome. The sentences are still beautiful. The characters are wrought just perfectly. And the tension builds at just the right pace. I'm glad I gave King's work a shot.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I like the idea of this book, and I like the structure. But I never felt like the author took me to a deeper level. Somehow the book often felt like paraphrasing. Even the interior thoughts somehow felt distant, rushed, surface or obvious. I guess obvious is the best description. I felt like Ng often chose the most obvious struggles and plot twists. I did not enjoy this book. The suspense is exciting, though. If you're looking for a quick read, this might be a good option.
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
He is a master. This is so well reported and so well written, a perfect example of sentence and structure.
The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Some of the themes were executed with a heavy hand, and I don't know that all of the neighbor vignettes worked, but I loved this book. It had a great plot, great characters and great sentences. Each narrator really felt distinct and real. I can't wait to see what she writes next.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
I don't think of myself a pure plot devotee, but this novel is SO repetitive that it made all the non-repetitive yet still off-plot details feel extraneous. Maybe there was deeper meaning in some, but at a certain point it just annoyed me to have to read exchanges like his asking Olga to eat dinner and her saying it was her Mother's Day birthday. I was so happy for this book to be over!
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Thank god for the family tree listed at the beginning. I flipped back to it every few pages, trying to suss out the subtle varieties in Aurealianos and Arcadios.
This novel has such great sentences -- descriptors like no other -- and such imagination. But the plot is a mess, more paraphrase and recounting of sexual encounters (more than one instance of incest and another of pedophilia) than narrative arc. It is definitely not an easy read.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The sentences are almost too pretty, the structure too tricky. Both overwhelm my ability to really get lost in what could be an exciting book. The short chapters keep me reading at a nice clip, but the back and forth through time makes keeping all the characters straight confusing. At times, reading this is fun, but often it feels like work. Just a touch of lightness could give it more balance, too.
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
This was just so fun to read. Maybe I have previous reading bias: I read "All The Light We Cannot See" just before this -- an impressive but so un-fun book. This was a relief, a novel I couldn't wait to read at the end of every day. Groundbreaking? Nope. But I read it in the summer!
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
"The Turner House" somehow encompasses the entire 21st century African American experience -- hard labor, the Great Migration, redlining, Detroit's boom and bust -- without ever feeling didactic. Instead, Flournoy renders real characters here, a family with mysteries and problems like any other. It's an educational novel, but foremost, it is a pleasure to read.
Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow
I loved this book at first. It's such a treat to hear from so many brilliant minds. But as the book wore on, Apatow shared the same anecdotes over and over. The interviews became, increasingly, about him. Of course, he's not a journalist. This is memoir disguised as interviews. And there are great, great moments. But I came away really disliking, or more accurately, feeling sorry for Judd. He seems so badly to want to be regarded in the same ilk as those interviewed here. And the thing is: he is a great filmmaker. He doesn't need to try so hard for esteem.
His younger interviews are so great, so inquisitive. I wish that boy had asked all of the book's questions. But if he had to grow up and inward, I wish he had hired a better editor -- someone to cut the repeated anecdotes or throat-clearing bits of transcription, someone to tighten this into the brilliant book that does lies within.
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
This book seems so simple, the story of a few fishing trips. But in those, love unfolds and dread builds. So much is contained here.
I didn't love all the descriptions of fishing, but it's his book, not mine. The debaucherous brother-in-law scenes are super entertaining.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
I was put off, at first, by the heavy-handed, didactic dialogue -- conversations on Leviticus and antimen just felt too on-the-nose. But then Evaristo really found her groove. Stick with this book. Each of the characters becomes more complicated. I love how the author explores the effects Barry's secrets and reveals have on each person.
The sections about Carmel are Rita Dove level poetry, too. Whooo.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
It's an impressive, beautiful book. And yet: it is so so hard to follow. You're left anchorless for a long while. I kept searching for a slang conversion or a CliffsNote version, hoping I could find out what happened so I could go reread and just enjoy the beauty. Instead I spent so much time trying to find out what happened or what Papa Lo or Josey meant. I loved Nina and the free verse approach to violence.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
So funny and laid bare. Chast lets all the embarrassing parts of herself -- the self that worries more over money, the self that never felt close to her mother -- show. There are so many tender moments, so personally human that they'll resonate universally.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Best book I read all year, no contest.
M Train by Patti Smith
M Train is totally weird and meandering, so unlike "Just Kids." Yet it's just as moving. It, too, feels like an elegy, albeit what that comes together and filaments and fringes. It really touched me. I loved getting glimpse into her heart and brain, her repeated habits.
Erratic Facts by Kay Ryan
Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Enlightening and easy to read, nice look, charming at times, and yet ... Some details feel extraneous, others don't dig deep enough. I finished the book not feeling especially connected to him or longing for more.
A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk
So much to love here -- the characters, the sentences, the scope and history. But it wasn't focused enough. I didn't need to read lengthy chapters on every job he ever had. A slightly simpler story could have been more powerful
Outline by Rachel Cusk
This is the best fiction book I read all year. I rented it from the library then had to go buy it because there were so many lines I wanted to underline. This is the kind of book you could finish then immediately begin reading again. She reveals so much character in this slim novel. So much about life, too.